Spiritual or Physical?
Yoga means to “yoke” and to put it simply, the purpose of yoga is to connect back with the Divine, to experience oneness with the Divine. So yoga is a spiritual practice. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes 8 steps to reach the goal, known as “The Eight Limbs of Yoga”. It starts with Ethical Principles (Yamas), Personal Observances (Niyamas), Yoga Postures (Asana), Breathing techniques (Pranayama), Internalisation of the Senses (Pratyahara), Concentration (Dharana), Meditation (Dhyana) and Blissful state (Samadhi). So, the physical exercise which is practiced in the modern western world, also known as “asana” or yoga postures is just one of the 8 steps. There are more details here: https://shadesofyoga.com/the-8-limbs-of-the-yogic-path/
With the popularity of yoga in the western world, most people are now exposed to it first as a physical exercise. They are not initially exposed to it as a set of ethical principles for example. Therefore, it is understandable that many people misunderstand what “yoga” is and presume it is just the yoga postures.
Which approach is better?
Practicing asana – yoga postures – according to B.K.S. Iyengar is beneficial for the body and makes the practitioners live longer and healthier lives. When practiced regularly, asana can actually bring the practitioner into inner calmness, and help them get in tune with their spirituality.
Those who approach yoga with fitness and physical exercise in mind, might still experience the spiritual side of it. There are many practitioners who now use yoga as their spiritual path, when they started practicing initially just as an exercise. B.K.S. Iyengar said that “Yoga does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.”
For the spiritual practitioners, it is easy to slip and judge the practitioners who do not connect spiritually through yoga. But we must remember that everyone is where they are supposed to be. Yoga Teacher Training
A Yogi should give compassion to everyone, without discrimination. Those who are not yet transformed through yoga spiritually, also deserve compassion.
How do we go from where we are?
After understanding that we are where we are supposed to be, you might ask: “What next?”.
The answer is simple: Just keep going.
If you approach yoga physically, keep practicing asana, respecting your body as your temple. You might be blessed with strength, flexibility, endurance, health and a long happy life. And then you might start to be curious about the ethical code of living, or the breathing, or the other aspects of yoga. You might start to feel the need to approach it spiritually. If not, it is also fine. Just keep walking the path.
For those who approach yoga spiritually, keep learning. Keep evaluating your own life, and living in accordance with the Yama’s and Niyama’s. Sri Dharma Mittra said in his book “Life of a Yogi”: “Oh my loved ones, keep Yama and Niyama. Then you have a short cut to immortality”.
The path of yoga, whether spiritual or physical, is a path that we must keep walking, without judgement to others or to self and without expectation. And who knows, in the end we might find the bliss we are looking for.
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